At the Suez Canal, hoping a rising tide will lift a boat 4 football pitches long

Written by Vivian Yee

The gargantuan container ship that blocked world trade by stalling the suez canal has towered over Umm Gaafar’s dusty brick house for five days now, humming its deep mechanical hum.

She looked up from where she was sitting in the bumpy dirt road and considered what the ship, the Ever Given, could carry in all those containers. Flat screen TVs? Full-size refrigerators, washing machines or ceiling fans? Neither she nor her neighbors in the hamlet of Manshiyet Rugola, a population of 5,000, had any at home.

“Why don’t they take out one of these containers?” Umm Gaafar, 65, joked. “There might be something good in there. Maybe it could feed the city.

The Japanese company Ever Given and the more than 300 freighters now waiting to cross the Suez Canal, one of the most critical shipping arteries in the world, could supply Manshiyet Rugola many times.

Carrying cars, oil, livestock, laptops, jet fuel, junk, grain, sweaters, sneakers, appliances, toilet paper, toys, medical supplies and more, the ships were supposed to supply much of the world, and the canal was to have been their fastest route from Asia and the Middle East to Europe and the east coast of the United States.

Canal authorities said on Saturday that the dredgers had managed to dig the back of the ship on Friday evening, releasing its rudder, and that on Saturday afternoon, they had dredged 18 meters into the east side of the canal, where the bow of the ship was securely blocked. But after a rescue team once again failed to dislodge the leviathan from four soccer fields from the sandbank where it ran aground on Tuesday, blocking all shipping traffic through the canal, supply chains worlds have come closer to a full-blown crisis.

Already, according to shipping analysts, the colossal traffic jam was holding nearly $ 10 billion in trade every day.

“All of the world’s retail moves in containers, or 90% of it,” said Alan Murphy, founder of Sea-Intelligence, a marine data and analytics company. “So everything is impacted. Name any brand name, and they’ll be stuck on one of those ships. “

Bottleneck relief depends on the ability of the reclaimers to clear the sand, mud, and rock where the Ever Given is stuck and lighten the load on the vessel enough to help it float again, while the tugs try to push and pull it freely. Their best chance could come on Monday, when a spring tide raises the canal’s water level by about 18 inches, analysts and shipping agents said.

The map shows what authorities will need to do to move the Ever Given vessel from the Suez Canal.

The company that oversees the ship’s operations and crew, Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement, said 11 tugs were helping, with two more expected on Sunday. Several dredgers, including a specialized suction dredger capable of extracting 2,000 cubic meters of material per hour, were digging around the bow of the ship, the company said.

From the deck of a tugboat, where Egyptian authorities allowed reporters to glimpse the rescue operation for the first time on Saturday evening, several boats that barely reached half the side of the ship were visible, pitted towards the ship to keep it stable. Dredges and heavy equipment hung like toys in the spotlight near the bow of the ship.

A powerful tug was seated near the stern of the ship, awaiting the next refloating attempt. But the high tide, which was forecast for a little after 10:30 p.m., came and went without progress.

Much of the work, however, was invisible. The team of eight Dutch rescue experts and naval architects overseeing the operation will have to study the ship and the seabed and create a computer model that will help it get around the ship without damaging it, said Captain Nick Sloane, a South African rescue captain. who led the operation to right the Costa Concordia, the cruise ship that capsized in 2012 off the coast of Italy.

They will have to clear other ships in the area, a massive coordination effort. And they will have to take into account the possibility that the Ever Given grounding has reorganized the seabed, making it more difficult for other vessels to pass through the area even after it has moved, said Captain Paul Foran, a maritime consultant who worked on other rescue operations.

Ever Given, a Panamanian-flagged freighter stuck in the Suez Canal and blocking traffic in the vital waterway, is seen on Saturday March 27, 2021. Tugs and a specialized suction dredger worked to dislodge a stranded giant container ship on the side of the Suez Canal in Egypt for the past three days, blocking a critical waterway for global shipping. (AP Photo / Mohamed Elshahed)

If the tugs, dredges, and pumps can’t do the job, they could be joined by a set of specialist ships and machinery that will turn heads, possibly requiring hundreds of workers: small tankers to siphon off the water. vessel fuel; the tallest cranes in the world to unload some of its containers one by one; and, if no crane is high enough or close enough, heavy helicopters capable of picking up containers up to 20 tonnes – although no one has said where the cargo will go. (A full 40ft container can weigh up to 40 tons.)

Lt. Gen. Oussama Rabie, head of the Suez Canal Authority, told a press conference on Saturday that if he hoped “that we did not reach this stage,” authorities would summon ships with cranes. to transfer some of the containers.

Although authorities and channel analysts appeared optimistic the channel would be cleared this weekend, Sloane estimated the operation would take at least a week. When a ship of a similar size, the CSCL Indian Ocean, ran aground near the port of Hamburg in 2016, it took nearly six days to clean up the Elbe.

All because, to put it simply: “It’s a very big ship; that’s a really big deal, ”said Richard Meade, editor-in-chief of Lloyd’s List, a London-based maritime intelligence publication. “I don’t think there is any doubt that they have everything they need. It’s just a matter of, it’s a really big deal.

If the ship becomes available on Monday, the shipping industry may absorb the inconvenience, analysts said, but beyond that, supply chains and consumers could start to experience major disruption.

Some ships have already decided not to wait, turning around from Suez to make the long trip around the southern tip of Africa, a trip that could add weeks to the trip and cost more than $ 26,000 per additional day in fuel.

On Saturday, Rabie defended the canal’s safety record: 18,840 ships in 2020, zero accidents.

“What happened is happening all over the world and it will happen again,” he said. “The Suez Canal, as a passage, has nothing to do with the incident.”

In Manshiyet Rugola, whose name translates to “Little Village of Manhood”, traffic jams of any kind would be difficult to imagine in normal times.

Donkey carts stacked with clover bumped into semi-cobbled lanes between low brick houses and lush green fields lined with palm trees, rubbish and animal dung. A teenager was selling ice cream on his motorbike. The roosters offered secular competition to the noon call to prayer. Until Ever Donné appeared, the minarets of the mosques without impositions were the tallest structures in the area.

“Do you want to see the ship?” a young boy asked a pair of visiting reporters, swaying in excitement under the window of their car.

Since the earthquake-like rumble of the stranded ship woke many people up around 7 a.m. on Tuesday, Ever Given was the only subject in town.

“The whole village was looking over there,” said Youssef Ghareeb, 19, a factory worker. “We’ve gotten so used to having her with her, as we’ve been living on our rooftops watching the ship for four days.

It was universally believed that the view was even better at night, when the ship shone with light: a skyscraper protruding from the skyline of a large city, lying on its side.

“When it lights up at night, it’s like the Titanic,” said Nadia, who, like neighbor Umm Gaafar, declined to give her full name because of security forces in the area. “All that’s missing is the necklace from the movie.”